A Night of Playing Favorites : Music review: Pops orchestra and William Hall chorale mix it up for a fun-filled tribute to OCPAC.


'Twas the time for fluff, fun and fund-raising, and all through the concert, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and the William Hall Master Chorale treated its glittery audience to Christmas favorites in various popular guises.

The occasion, Thursday night at The Pond, was the 10th anniversary of the Orange County Performing Arts Center's first season in 1986. One thousand of the roughly 10,000 attendees--those dripping in the most ice--had paid $250 to sit at tables center-rink and enjoy a pre-concert candlelight dinner. Whether or not one chose to dine, plenty of ham was provided by conductor Keith Lockhart and guests.

The chorale's William Hall dished up some of the juiciest theatrics, not during his turns at the podium--when he seemed to be asking his group for refinement and vocal subtleties, sometimes in vain--but in the course of a jolly recitation of "A Visit From St. Nicholas." The Pops supported him with jaunty orchestral punctuation supplied by Jae Reisman.

In their work together, the chorus and orchestra served plenty of good cheer, though they appeared to have had some trouble hearing one another, given the amusing, out-of-sync effects they momentarily created in Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Christmas Carols." Perhaps the massive speakers--which were placed overhead and in front of the performing groups and which made the entire concert sound like a slickly engineered recording--confused matters below.

Never mind. Whether tastes ran to the "Hallelujah" chorus or "White Christmas," there was an oft-performed favorite for everyone. And though many may have considered Santa's visit the highlight of the evening, at least one listener found the best tidings carried by Jubilant Sykes' rich baritone, equally convincing in Williams' mellow collection and Mark Rice's falsetto-laden, gospel-influenced setting of "Away in a Manger."

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